NEWS: Call it “the Soraya”

Following a $17 million donation from Younes and Soraya Nazarian to the Valley Performing Arts Center on the Cal State Northridge campus, the center — which hosts a number of concerts annually including classical music — will be renamed the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts or “the Soraya” for short.

Wonder if they’re going to change its Web site URL.

Read Jeffrey Fleischman’s article in the Los Angeles Times HERE.

Read Dana Bartholomew’s story in the Daily News HERE.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Temirkanov, St. Petersburg Philharmonic end So Cal sojourn at VPAC

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Yuri Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic wrapped up a two-night Southern California tour last night at Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center.

Once upon a time, before the advent of jet aircraft and more open national borders, many orchestras maintained a national sound — i.e., their playing reflected sounds that emanated from their nations’ unique musical traditions. Today few of those distinctive orchestra continue, but perhaps the most significant still working is the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

This ensemble is Russia’s oldest orchestra. Alexander III founded it in 1882 as the Imperial Music Choir, which then transformed into the Court Orchestra. Subsequently the orchestra’s name reflected the city’s name changes — e.g., State Philharmonic of Petrograd and Leningrad Philharmonic. In 1991, it became the St. Petersburg Philharmonic when the city resumed its historic name.

By whatever name, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic is recognized as one of the world’s great ensembles and last night performance showed why. A look at the orchestra’s roster shows it’s comprised almost entirely of Russian or Eastern European names, which is one big reason why it retains its distinctive national sound.

Another reason is Yuri Temirkanov (pictured left), who made his debut with the ensemble 50 years ago and almost immediately became Assistant Conductor to the orchestra’s legendary leader, Evgeny Mravinsky. Now age 78, Temirkanov has been the ensemble’s Artistic Director and Chief Conductor since 1978, and he was on the podium last night at Cal State Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center.

For this second of two consecutive performances in Southern California Temirkanov constructed a quite different program than he conducted Wednesday night in Costa Mesa (my review is HERE). For VPAC he chose Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

What a difference a night made in terms of sound. At the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa the orchestra was seated on risers, with the string basses grouped in a tight bunch on a top riser at the back left of the orchestra. Last night all the musicians’ chairs were on the floor and the basses were in a single line to the back left of the orchestra. That made for a more balanced sound with the violins more prominent throughout the night than had been the case the night before.

Moreover, unlike Segerstrom’s enveloping acoustic, VPAC has a dryer sound, which may have helped the balance but also diminished the sense of deep bass sonority except in certain key portions of the Shostakovich.

There was heightened pre-performance interest in Shostakovich’s fifth for a couple of reasons.

First, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Jaap van Zweden, had just given an ultra-powerful performance of this best-known Shostakovich work last weekend in Walt Disney Concert Hall (REVIEW).

Second, Shostakovich’s music has been in the St. Petersburg Philharmonic’s DNA from the beginning. Mravinsky and the orchestra premiered five of Shostakovich’s symphonies (including the fifth in 1937) and the composer dedicated his eighth symphony to Mravinsky. Moreover, Temirkanov reportedly knew the composer.

The orchestra was absolutely at the top of its game in last night’s performance. The brass section was more prominent than in Segerstrom Hall and they sounded terrific, particularly in the Shostakovich. Everyone was locked in on Temirkanov, who — as always — conducted without a baton, using his hands and supple fingers instead to sculpture phrases and cue individuals with quiet gestures. He also invariably conducts with a score in front of him, a rarity in terms of conductors today.

The first movement was quite brisk and not as full of sturm und drang as one normally hears (although part of that may have been VPAC’s acoustics). The second movement featured razor-sharp precision from the strings’ pizzicato and the winds. In the third movement (in which the brass is silent throughout), the orchestra’s string sections unveiled that deep, sonorous Russian sound, with the cellos, in particular, digging deeply for their effects.

Much has been written about the symphony’s final movement — indeed, about the entire work. This was the piece with which Shostakovich regained favor with the Soviet government after a Pravda editorial (presumably authored by Joseph Stalin) had excoriated the composer for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Whether that final movement did, indeed, represent a note of triumph or sarcasm toward the government has been debated and will continue to be debated forever.

Some conductors lead the final movement with increasing speed and force. It’s certainly a valid concept, one made famous by Leonard Bernstein, among others. On the other hand, Temirkanov’s tempos were more stately (even more so than van Zweden used in the L.A. Phil performance) and, rather than accelerating in the ending pages, Temirkanov held to his deliberate tempos to the very end, an equally defensible tactic that made for a spine-tingling conclusion.

Following the justifiably deserved standing ovation, Temirkanov and Co. responded with a luscious reading of the Amaroso from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella as an encore.

For whatever reason, several local orchestras have elected to begin their programs recently not with overtures and concertos but with major single works. To cite but two examples: the Pasadena Symphony recently began a program with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and last week the Los Angeles Philharmonic ‘s program opened with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Wednesday night in Costa Mesa the folks from Russia opened with a 35-minute suite from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet.

Neither Wednesday nor last night did Temirkanov pause to allow management to seat latecomers (Jaap van Zweden didn’t either after the first movement of the afore mentioned Beethoven’s 5th). Both conductors expected patrons to show up on time — what a concept!!! — although VPAC management did, regrettably, seat latecomers after the first movement

Garrick Ohlsson (pictured left), who has appeared quite frequently in these parts, was the soloist for last night’s performance of Brahms first piano concerto. As always, Ohlsson sat quietly as he waited while Temirkanov and his band essayed the stormy opening section of the concerto. Ohlsson then delivered a riveting, regal reading, alternating pulsating power and majesty with the most delicate playing in the soft sections.

I have always envisioned composers in heaven listening to people performing their music, and I like to think that Brahms would have turned to Mozart and said, “Now that’s exactly what I had in mind for this piece!”

As an encore, Ohlsson — who leaped onto the international scene when he won the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition — offered a playful, yet elegant rendition of Chopin’s Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 50, No. 3.

• There were no notes about the music in VPAC’s printed program book.
• Details about VPAC’s 2017-2018 season will be released May 5.

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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FIVE-SPOT: March 9-16, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending.

8 p.m. in The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills

Kirshbaum and Wosner play Beethoven’s complete cello sonatas over the course of two nights, along with music by Mozart and Handel. Kirshbaum is chair of the strings department at the USC Thornton School of Music and holds the school’s Gregor Piatigorsky Chair for Violincello.

BONUS: Kirshbaum and Wosner recently issued a CD of this music.


7:30 p.m. in Bovard Auditorium (USC); Los Angeles

Guest conductor Uriel Segal leads the USC Thornton Symphony in Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.

BONUS: Free Admission. Bovard Auditorium is easily accessible via Metro’s Expo Line. Exit at the Expo Park/USC line and walk north through the USC campus to reach Bovard (adjacent to the Tommy Trojan statue).


March 10 at 8 p.m. March 11 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 12 at 3 p.m.
In Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge); Northridge

As we close in on the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth (Aug. 15, 2018), McCoy Rigby Entertainment brings its production of the composer’s best-known work to VPAC. Next month it begins a run at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (INFO).

BONUS: The Sunday show will be a sign-language interpreted performance. Also, check Goldstar for potential discount tickets HERE.


March 10 at 11 a.m. March 11 at 8 p.m. March 12 at 2 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Los Angeles

Guest conductor Jaap van Zweden, incoming music director of the New York Philharmonic and continuing in the same role at the Hong Kong Philharmonic, conducts the LAPO in the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Shostakovich.

BONUS: This represents a chance to compare and contrast the LAPO performance of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic on March 16 at VPAC (see below).


Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall; Costa Mesa
Thursday at 8 p.m. in Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge); Northridge

The St. Petersburg Philharmonic and its longtime conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, are ending a cross-country U.S. tour with concerts in California. The OC concert is Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No. 2, selections from Prokofiev’s ballet score Romeo and Juliet, and the Russian composer’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji as soloist.

The VPAC concert is Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, with Garrick Ohlsson as the soloist. So, as noted above, this concert gives us a chance to compare the L.A. Phil with the folks from St. Petersburg who have Shostakovich in their collective DNA.

Costa Mesa information:
VPAC information:

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEWS: Adams celebration, Pacific Symphony, L.A. Phil kick off January programs

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

In addition to Los Angeles Chamber Chorus’ “Life Every Voice” festival (LINK), which begins Jan. 14, and two previously noted Los Angeles Philharmonic programs (LINK), two other noteworthy events are worth mentioning as I get back into my biweekly column routine for 2017.

Composer John Adams turns age 70 on Feb. 14 and, as has been noted in other columns and Blog posts, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is paying tribute to its Creative Chair throughout the current season. However, it’s not the only organization honoring Adams.

The Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge has a mini-festival that kicks off on Jan. 14. Entitled “American Berserk” and also presented by Jacaranda Music, the Santa Monica-based contemporary music organization, this concert ends with three Adams pieces: American Berserk, a short piano piece; John’s Book of Alleged Dances, originally written for the Kronos Quartet; and Grand Pianola Music, one of Adams’ best-known works.

The concert also includes music by Louis Marie Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Theolonius Monk and Colon Noncarrow.

Performers will include Christopher Taylor, piano; the Lyris Quartet with four dancers; the Jacaranda Chamber Orchestra (Mark Alan Hilt, conductor) with Gloria Cheng and Taylor pianos; Holly Sedillos, soprano; Zanaida Robles, soprano; and Kristen Toedtman, alto.

Other VPAC programs during the Adams celebration will take place on Feb. 3 and 15. Information:


Music Director Carl St.Clair will lead the Pacific Symphony on Jan. 12, 13 and 14 at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa. The program will pair Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with 25-year-old Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang as soloist. On Jan. 15 the program is solely the Prokofiev symphony. Information:

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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CLASS ACT: New, old traditions highlight holiday music season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Tradition permeates every facet of holiday celebrations, especially music. One has only to hear a measure of Silent Night or Jingle Bells to instantly recognize the song and, indeed, to sing it.

However, when the Los Angeles Philharmonic takes the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage on Dec. 16 and 18, they will be performing a work that is not a tradition … at least, not yet. When John Adams’ El Nino debuted in 2000, the composer (and others) hoped that this so-called “nativity oratorio” would become a Christmas season staple, a 20th century version of Handel’s famed work, Messiah.

One reason that might prevent such an acceptance is the forces required to perform Adams’ 90-minute work. In addition to a full orchestra — with a percussion section that includes a glockenspiel, triangles, gong, almglocken, guiro, maracas, crotales, high cowbells, temple block, tam-tam, chimes, claves and two temple bowls, along with guitars, harp, piano and a sampler — the work is scored for chorus (in this case, the Los Angeles Master Chorale), children’s choir (the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus), and six vocal soloists, including three counter tenors.

Adams himself will be conducting the two L.A. performances and two of the counter tenors, Daniel Bubeck and Brian Cummings, sang in the world premiere in Paris. The performances will be part of the L.A. Phil’s season-long celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday (which will actually take place on Feb. 15).

For those who prefer a traditional telling of the nativity story, the Phil will intersperse El Nino with performances of Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 15 and 17. Noted French-Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie will lead the LAPO, his own chorus, La Chapelle de Quebec, and four soloists.


There will be plenty of other Messiah performances throughout the month. Among them will be Julian Wachner leading the Choir of Trinity Wall St. Church in New York City and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra on Dec. 7 at Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. Information:

Another performance will come from the Pasadena Master Chorale, led by Jeffrey Bernstein, performing on Dec. 11 at First Congregational Church, Pasadena. Information:

Among the churches offering Christmas programs this year will be La Canada Presbyterian Church, on Dec. 18. The centerpiece of the program will be a performance of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” a piece commemorating the 1914 Christmas truce during World War I. Tony award- and Emmy-award winning actor Courtney B. Vance will narrate the work. Information:

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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